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4:32PM

Durant: I was in the league before I got to the Warriors

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — He was up there alone, confronting the questions, some that Kevin Durant obviously thought were unnecessary. Most times, he is joined for interviews after games by Steph Curry, and Durant will thumb through the stats while Curry ruminates.

But this was a day before the NBA finals, the fourth in succession for the Warriors — and Cavaliers — the second in a row for Durant. He was on his own, as in a way he was in Game 3 of last year’s finals when in the closing minutes Golden State trailed the Cavs.

Durant threw in a 3-pointer, the Cleveland lead was gone, and in a way so were the Warriors, headed to a 3-0 lead in games. It was as big a shot as Durant has made in his career, but as he emphatically reminded Wednesday, it hardly was the only shot.

Asked Wednesday whether he defined his career as divided before that game and after that game, Durant quickly answered, “No, no.”

For an excellent reason.

He was the league MVP in 2014, an all-star eight times.

He was so sought-after as a free agent in the summer of 2016, Warriors players met him in a residence on Long Island — the Hampton Five, they came to be named, including their quarry — to persuade him to sign with Golden State, which he did.

Then came another question that displayed his controlled impatience, one about developing a short memory about missed shots and other difficulties. “Was that something you picked up recently … something you had to learn over the course of your career?”

“Well, this is my 11th year,” he said with a trace of sarcasm. “I know a lot of people probably didn’t watch me play before I got to the Warriors. But I was in the league before I got here, and I learned a lot along that time. I actually won an MVP award. I went to the Olympics. Scored a couple of points.”

A couple. More like 20,000 plus. And as we learned the last couple years, Durant is an excellent defender. As certainly are Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and other Warriors, including the injured Andre Iguodala.

When Durant joined the Warriors, he had to know — and definitely knows now — it’s Steph Curry’s team. You see Curry’s No. 30 jerseys everywhere. You see him on commercials. Durant doesn’t seem to mind.

He plays his game — a 6-foot-9 forward who shoots and dribbles like a guard, and rebounds like a 7-footer. Against Houston in the Western Conference finals, when Curry wasn’t bringing the ball down court, it was Durant.

The story has been told. Growing up fatherless near Washington, D.C., Durant was mentored by a recreation director, Charles “Chucky“ Craig, who at age 35 was gunned down in one of those senseless killings. Durant wears that number, 35, in honor of Craig.

“Every time I see it, it’s an instant reminder,” Melvin McCray, another one of Durant’s childhood coaches, told the New York Times.

Every time we see Durant, we see an individual whose story is rarely heard, other than being offered in the numbers of basketball games. Durant is quiet. He lets others tell his tale. Until requested.

Some wondered whether it was good for the NBA to have the same two teams in the finals every year — it’s only been four straight years, but the thought is understood.

“Yeah,” he responded, “I think it’s great. It’s great. You want me to elaborate?”

Of course we did.

“Well,” Durant continued, “you get just get a great set of players on the court. I mean, it may not be as suspenseful as a lot of people want it to be or as drama-filled, but that's what you've got movies and music for.

“I think this is a great display of basketball on the court from both sides, and if you're a real lover of the game, you can enjoy how both teams play it, even though it may be different. It's still organic and true to the game, pure to the game. So if you enjoy basketball, I don't feel like you should have any complaints because it's a great set of players on both teams.”

One of whom is Kevin Durant.

8:54AM

Everybody knows Warriors are from Oakland — no state needed

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — You’ll notice that tradition dictates the use of the state, “Calif.,” after “Oakland,” in the dateline, as if there’s any other Oakland that matters. Old habits die hard. Just like Warriors opponents, and we’ll get to that quickly enough.

There was a time when Oakland was just another city in the Pacific Time Zone not named San Francisco or Los Angeles, a time when someone from Oakland — or San Jose, certainly — would identify his home as “near San Francisco.”

But the Raiders changed that. The Oakland Raiders, and will that hurt if and when they’re the Las Vegas Raiders. Then along came the Athletics, with Reggie and Catfish and three World Series championships in a row, unprecedented in the last 60 years or so. And now the Warriors.

Who cares if their official listing is some mythical place called “Golden State”? The whole world, or at least the segment that can tell the difference between a pick-and-roll and a Kaiser roll, knows where the Warriors play.

And, these days know they win. And win. And win. On Thursday night, it was more of the same, the Dubs never trailing, which is a bit unusual, clubbing the Minnesota Timberwolves, 126-113, at the Oracle. In Oakland.

You’ve heard and read this before, but the Warriors are good. No, the Warriors are great. So great that when they get a bit sloppy on offense — Dubs coach Steve Kerr sighed that the T-Wolves had more possession time — they still win easily.

“Our guys are so talented,’’ Kerr conceded in an admission that coaches rarely make, “we can win without being totally dialed in.”

Minnesota scored 62 points in the first half, shooting 52 percent. Of course, the Dubs scored 74 points, shooting 60 percent.

On the map? On the target. Sure, Oracle sells out every game, and sure, the crowd is pumped from the opening tip. But do those fans know what they’re watching, that a group like this, four All-Stars, players off the bench who were starters on other teams, is special?

You’ve heard people say that we never know what we had until it isn’t there any longer. People thought the 49ers of the '80s would win forever. Nothing stays the same, in life, in sports.

So does Kerr, who agrees he has been blessed with a roster that may never be matched again. He understands the brilliance of this team. And the fact it won’t last many more years.

Golden State, Oakland, is the new Celtics, the new Lakers. It has Kevin Durant, who had 28 points Thursday, Steph Curry, who had 25, Klay Thompson, who had 25, and Draymond Green, who had eight rebounds, eight assists and nine points.

“It wasn’t our best effort,” said Kerr, “but again, talent wins.”

Especially when it’s talent that takes such joy in winning, talent that isn’t concerned with individual statistics

Durant showed up for the post-game presser attired only in his Warriors singlet and shorts, no warm-up clothes or T-shirt. He was elated not only with the win that kept the Warriors with the best record in the NBA but also the news that he was the first player picked for this new format All-Star game, in which players are selected by the captains, Curry and LeBron James, as if they were standing on a playground court hoping to be chosen.

“There’s a feeling of respect,” said Durant, “picked No. 1 by your peers. This has been a great day, picked high and also winning.”

Kerr not only knows what he has but also how to take advantage. Durant played 36 minutes of the total 48, Curry 37, Thompson 35 and Draymond 32. Asked if he was concerned that he might have worked the four too much, Kerr said, “You do what you have to do to win the game.”

That’s the essence. You play to win. The Raiders always did — “Just win, baby,” demanded Al Davis. The A’s did for many years. Now the Warriors are winning. At the moment, those all are teams from Oakland. The add-on “Calif.” is extraneous.

8:30PM

Draymond Green on KD: ‘His defense is spectacular’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — For the opponent, it’s the old question against the young but experienced Warriors. Which poison do you pick: Triple Double (Draymond Green, of course) or Double Trouble (Kevin Durant)?

It’s a numbers game you’re destined to lose.

Green got his threesome on Christmas day at the Oracle (12 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists), Durant his double (25 points, five blocked shots). What the Warriors got on the holiday was less a gift than a well-earned victory over the only other team the fans seem to care about, the Cleveland Cavaliers, 99-92.

The NBA wants to put on a show every December 25, five games from morning to night, and the prime attraction, a noon start Pacific time, 3 p.m. on the East Coast, is the matchup between the franchises that faced each other in the last three NBA finals, the Cavs and Dubs. As Hollywood knows, sequels sell.

So does the Big D, defense, particularly by KD, Durant.

The chant? It’s not “offense, offense.” Hardly anyone needs encouragement to let fly a 15-footer or roar in for a dunk. Scoring points is fun. Keeping the other team from scoring them is work. And the Warriors have been working. Especially Durant.

Nobody doubts what he can do with the ball. He’s averaging 28.4 points a game. With Steph Curry missing, Durant was the guy who kept throwing in the winners, against the Lakers, against everyone, as the streak went to 11 in a row. Whoever dreamed that someone 6-foot-10 had the touch of someone 5-10? Swish.

Or who sensed Durant would use his wingspan (something around seven feet) to stymie and swat? Not Green, who a couple years back, when Durant was at Oklahoma City, went against him in the playoffs.

“He always made some defensive moves,” Green said of Durant, a teammate now for a second year, “but he never really seemed to care. When he was guarding me, I knew how good he was, his length, how hard it was to get a shot off. When he came here, we talked about him getting better. From that point last year, he’s become a great defender.”

Durant almost agrees. But hold off on the word "great."

“I’m getting close to where I want to be,” said Durant. “But I’m not quite there.”

Durant on Monday defended the NBA’s best player, LeBron James, because that’s what Kevin wanted to do. James had 20 points (Kevin Love led the Cavs with 31 and 18 rebounds) but also a game-high seven turnovers.

“He’s one of the leaders in blocked shots per game,” James said of Durant. “He’s been doing a heck of a job first of all taking (the) individual matchup and then protecting the rim, too. They have a good, maybe great They kicked our butts in transition.

“(Durant’s) right up there, if not the best, with Kawhi (Leonard), Russ (Westbrook), James (Harden). There’s a pretty long list. To play the same position, with me and KD being small forwards and with Kawhi, we do a great job of going at it.”

Durant’s only problem, if it can be considered as such, is that from afar, the fans, the press, he’s known as a shooter and scorer, no matter how many shots he blocks.

“If he just played defense,” said Draymond of Durant, “he’d be spectacular. But it will never overshadow his offense, which is spectacular.”

Durant was involved in yet another “call it the way you want it” play in the final seconds when the Warriors were ahead, blocking a LeBron shot and also it appeared getting a bit of LeBron’s hand. The officials studied replay after replay, then determined there was no foul.

“I just like guarding my position,” Durant said of taking on James. “A small forward is supposed to defend a small forward.”

Even if both small forwards, at 6-8, are taller than the big forward and occasional center, the 6-7 Green.

“You just can’t stop those guys like LeBron,” said Durant. ”They make good plays. They make shots at the rim. You can’t get discouraged.”

As one of the stars on a day of basketball stardom, Durant was anything but discouraged.

“It’s Christmas,” he reminded. ”There are so many people here happy. The spirit moves us.”

Fortunately, the spirit didn’t try to go inside against Durant or Draymond. He would have stopped moving.

9:37AM

For Warriors, new faces, old result; ‘This team is the NBA champ’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — No Steph? No Draymond? No Zaza? Three starters missing because of injuries? Ehhh. Maybe if the entire lineup was on the bench, the Warriors might be in trouble. Repeat: might.

But as one of the guys who did play, Kevin Durant, reminded us après game, “This team is the NBA champion.” And, one implies, believes it will be again, a third time in four years.

But we get ahead of ourselves, a legitimate failing when dealing with the Dubs. No matter who’s on court or who isn’t, the script seems wonderfully boring — wonderfully if you’re a Warriors partisan.

On Monday, with three-fifths of the normal starting lineup unable to take part, the Dubs whipped the Portland Trail Blazers, 111-104, at the Oracle.

It was a bit of a bummer that Nick Young was elbowed in the head in the third quarter and incurred a concussion. Not to make light of the matter. Concussions are serious, but somehow a blow to the head, sprained ankles (Steph Curry) and sore shoulders (Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia) have little effect.

Not when there’s a rookie name Jordan Bell. Or veterans such as David West or Omri Casspi.

Strength in numbers. You’ve heard it and read it ad infinitum. But that’s what the Warriors have. Just swallow hard and accept the repetition. And the success.

That was the Dubs’ seventh win in a row, the previous six, of course, coming on an historic (for them) road trip when they swept through the country from La-La Land (Lakers) to the Atlantic (Miami) without a loss, if you don’t count losing Curry when he stepped not lightly but on an opponent’s foot.

The Warriors were up by 20 much of the second half Monday against the Blazers, but as so often happens in a sport governed by a 24-second clock, big leads are difficult to retain, especially when Portland has that Oakland kid, Damian Lillard, who scored 39.

Durant had 28, nine rebounds and three blocks. Bell had the block of the night and 11 points. Klay Thompson had 24 points, And the NBA's most senior player, 37-year-old West — “I like competing,” was his reason not to retire — had 10 points.

“David’s had a spectacular season,” said Steve Kerr, the Warriors coach. “Every night he makes five or six shots and blocks shots. He’s one of the smartest players on the floor. A guy who’s a been a star, this late in a career, is like playing with house money.”

At 22, Bell is 15 years younger than West, but as Kerr said when asked about integrating young and old(er), experienced and inexperienced, “It’s not hard when you have people with talent who are willing to work.”

Said West, about Bell, Young and Casspi, new this season, “Those guys figure it out. Bell is learning quickly. He’s been getting a crash course from all the coaches and the veterans. It’s a golden opportunity just being around such great players.”

Kerr said using Bell — the coach teased pre-game and waited to announce him as his fifth starter — becomes a trade-off between youthful exuberance and youthful mistakes. “We point them out,” the coach explained. “He’s been coming on fast.”

Kerr was particularly enthused by the Warriors’ defense, especially without Draymond, the NBA Defensive Player of the Year for 2016-17. “Jordan was really powerful," he said. "That makes him feel good. That makes us feel good.”

Teams occasionally get sloppy in the first home game after a long trip. There’s a tendency to relax. But Durant said the two days off between the Friday night game at Detroit and Monday night game in Oakland allowed time to refocus.

He also pointed out that, no matter who couldn’t play, the people who did play were 6-foot-11, 6-7 and 6-6 and with plenty of reach. “We know how to play defense,” said Durant. “We’re not going to give up how we approach a game.”

No matter who can play or can’t.

9:02AM

S.F. Examiner: Sweet redemption: Warriors become first Bay Area team to win title at home since 1974

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

OAKLAND — Now inevitability was about to become reality. Fewer  than four minutes remained, and the crowd, at first hesitant, then triumphant, as the Warriors would in a short, glorious time Monday night, let loose, turning the building once more from the Oracle into the “Roaracle,” a place where winners reside.

“Warr-rriors, Warr-rriors, Warr-rriors,” they chanted loudly enough to be heard from Salinas to Sonoma — a gleeful, repetitive salute to the NBA’s once and newest champions, the team that was just short of playoff perfection but long on brilliance and success.

Read the full story here.

©2017 The San Francisco Examiner